Today, I’m sitting in the middle of Beaudry Provincial Park, trying to finish revising my book before school starts (in about 16 hours). Right now, my creative time is still my own, I get to decide where I sit, what I write and why. Tomorrow, my creative time will be gently poured into a different, classroom-shaped container and will be used to fuel the thinking and growing of 20 other people.
That’s why I sit here, in a desperate race against time to finish revising the last chapter of my book. I’m lovingly watching my characters stumbling through perils, while reaching for a fate I have already sealed. As much as I can, I’m clarifying and enhancing the path they take, because I just can’t stand the idea of leaving Pin Jun, Skye and Mr. Burns mid-sentence. After all we’ve been through over the past year, I owe them more than that. I owe them their ending, as polished and inspired as I can make it.
No matter what I feel like I owe them, the creative shift is unavoidable. The different writing projects that I’ve spent the last couple years writing and revising will sit, stationary in my computer, largely ignored for the next ten months. They’ll either age like fine wine and make it into the world when my life allows for an opening, or they’ll fade into the ether like a treasure map left out in the rain. It’s not that I’m abandoning everything that I’ve done, I still have a few query letters out to agents. I will still send some more when time allows, but this is not where my priorities can stay.
The reality is that I can’t be the kind of teacher that I want to be if I am trying to make my writing my focus. Nobody made me be a teacher, nobody told me that this was the path that I had to follow. Teaching is a choice that I make. It’s a challenge, it’s a privilege and it’s a responsibility. It’s not a path that I choose lightly, but I do choose it willingly.
For me the responsibility of being a teacher goes beyond providing educative material to elevate the literacy and numeracy skills of my students. Literacy and numeracy are important, but they pale in comparison to a love of learning and a curiosity about the world we live in. My students need to feel safe, cared for and inspired if they’re going to be comfortable and confident enough to be open to learning. Being open to learning is being vulnerable. We forget when we send our kids out into the world that we’re asking them to be brave over and over again all day long. It’s hard to admit you don’t know things, it’s hard to struggle through the confusion to reach understanding. We need to respect the learning that kids do and the vulnerability it takes to do it. We need to respect where they direct their creative energies.
For any of that to happen, I need to show up. Not just be a physically present warm body occupying the room. I need to bring my passion, empathy and creative spark into the room with me every day. I need to gather the moments of beauty and wonder around me, and bring them into the classroom to share. Luckily, I really love this responsibility.
What I love the most is growing and sharing stories with my students. I love teaching them that they have voices and experiences that are important and worth sharing. This is where I feel like the most important learning can happen. This is where students get the chance to understand about empathy and connection. They get to learn that by talking and listening to each other we can all understand both that we are special and that we are not alone. No matter who we are, our humanness gives us more similarities than differences.
Then, there’s the curriculum. It’s ironic that when I think about what’s most important in my teaching, the curriculum doesn’t make it anywhere near the top of my list. But still, it’s there and part of the job.
This year, I need to learn what it is to be in grade three and grade four (mostly, I’ve taught grade 5 and 6 with a smattering of everything else). I need to learn the curriculums in math, ELA, FLA, science, social studies, art, and health and I have to do most of it while speaking a language that I haven’t used regularly in a decade. Oh yeah, and I need to do it well.
It isn’t that I’m worried about the teaching, it’s more that I’m mindful of the space I need to give it in my life. I have a wife and four children (and three cats) who need my time. There’s only so much room for priorities and I feel like going into this school year, I’m full.
Then, there’s this blog. This blog is another outlet for my creative energy. I’ve thought a lot about whether I should keep writing this and for the moment, I feel compelled to continue. I like the reflecting and connecting that I get out of putting words out into the world each week. Even if I only hear from one person, who made a personal connection to what I had to say, I feel like it was time well spent. Maybe it’s also a weekly reminder that even if I have very little time to write, I’m still a writer.
Wherever your creative energies take you this fall, I hope that they find a space to grow and change. Of the 43 years that have so far made up my life, September has been the start of my new year for all but 6 of those years. So, happy new year, may this one be filled with love, laughter, learning and of course smiles.